Amy Winehouse died watching YouTube videos of herself after vodka binge. That’s what the headline of the Daily Mail from 2013 said anyway. The eye-catching phrase evokes an instant image of pitiful tragedy. And maybe it’s partly true. Maybe at some point during her final hours, all she wanted was to be reminded briefly of both her accomplishments and her faux pas as she stepped into the future with semi-sober eyes. Her security guard, Andrew Morris, is the one who painted this portrait of a tipsy Wino showing him videos of an unnamed man she used to date (surely it couldn’t have been Blake), only for him to leave her to her own devices. Then again, this story could be just about as trustworthy as something Paul Burrell, Princess Di’s former butler, would say.
Drinking from my own vat of vodka (a.k.a. simply chugging from a handle I bought at the liquor store down the street where they also sell lotto tickets) as September 14th approached, I put on the record that spoke to me far more than Back to Black: Frank. The moment her nonsensical scat transitions to “Stronger Than Me,” I take another swig from the bottle. You see, it seems that every year around this time, I manage to get broken up with by the same person, a married man named Sinclair Solomon. Incidentally, his first name meant “the illustrious.” In what language, I couldn’t tell you. Gaelic or some shit. The point is, he has uncanny timing when it comes to suddenly wanting to be a dutiful husband. And at his not so tender age of fifty-one, you would think this ship had sailed longer ago than the Niña, Pinta and the Santa María. But no, his wife, Sharon, still had this inexplicable hold over him. It wasn’t just that she controlled the purse strings either. Truth be told, even for a woman of forty-five, she was probably technically more attractive than I. She had blonde hair, naturally tan skin and green eyes. It’s an extremely rare combination. I, on the other hand, had witchy, below-the-shoulder length black hair, a curvy figure that had long ago gone out of style and too many tattoos to be approachable. In short, I was Amy without the talent.
But oh how I had the heartbreak over the years. Ever since 2011, when Winehouse’s alcohol-induced death was announced. For I met Sinclair that very July, just as my feelings were processed more rapidly than the absence of light in his darkroom, where I spent most of my afternoons. I know it was at least before Bastille Day when I began working for him in his studio. Ah such a cliche, the photographer’s assistant becoming enamored of him through the lens of his work, which, in retrospect, wasn’t even that good. The things that maturity and contempt can change your opinions on. At the time, I was twenty-four, Winehouse just shy of twenty-eight (ergo her unfortunate entry into the illustrious twenty-seven club). As her life was coming to a close, it felt as though mine was finally getting started. Before Sinclair, no guy had ever looked at me, let alone someone as revered and cultured as he.
At first, I couldn’t tell if his feelings for me were reciprocated or not. It’s so hard to know with someone that aloof. Then one day, out of nowhere, he said simply while staring through the looking glass to see one of his recently developed photos more closely, “Ilia, would you like to have dinner with me?” It was that easy for him to advance us to the next level.
However, being well-aware of his situation, my already paranoid nature augmented in the subsequent months. Everywhere I turned, it was as though I could feel Sharon’s eyes searing through my back. Of course, this is what naturally heightened my propensity toward the drink as a little panacea, something to daily take the stress off the complications of my love. It didn’t ameliorate the matter that my intake of Amy Winehouse’s oeuvre also increased as a result of that prosaic habit of suddenly becoming interested in a musician when he or she has died prematurely.
As 2011 crawled into 2012, my routine became pat. Come home, greet whatever roommates were in the living room, go to the fridge, pull out my bottle of wine and go to my room to listen to one of her two records. Thank God there was a slew of posthumous work. Or, at least, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. It was only when Sinclair would take me out to dinner and then to an exorbitant hotel room that I would break with my protocol. And every time he promised me that he would leave Sharon just as soon as his photography career took off, or at least the studio got more paying clients, I genuinely believed him. Because the love felt real to me. The way Blake’s love must have felt real to Amy.
By the end of 2013, I was really starting to lose my faith in the idea that we would ever be together as we should be. And, with my added years, I was seeing Sinclair with less rose-colored glasses. He wasn’t a silver fox, he was a graying, pallid, loose-skinned dangler–just dangling his affections at me to keep me on the hook. I couldn’t understand what he got out of it though. Was it merely the feel of supple skin against his own papery variety? Or did he actually feel something for me other than a coveting of youth? As I distanced myself from him and began to focus on my own photography, he at once became more interested, wooing me all over again with a trip to Newport in Rhode Island at the end of August.
While there, I took what remain arguably the best photos of my very short career. They got me some wall space in an art show at a gallery in Chelsea, the really stodgy kind that doesn’t even encourage you to come just for the free wine. So I sold a few pieces and that got Sinclair more titillated by me. I was born anew in his eyes. To me, though, he looked like an old military jacket I used to wear all the time, keeping it in my closet in the hope that I would see it with the same fondness as I once did in my formative years, but somehow never could.
As Amy could have told you, sentimentality is a powerful motivator for one’s actions, and I kept on seeing Sinclair in between forming new dalliances with men my own age. When he found out about it, his reaction was more extreme than I could have imagined. So extreme that he showed me the self-mutilating marks to prove it. They were horizontal, but nonetheless alarming. So I agreed to stay with him at their upstate residence near Ithaca, the town teeming with college students in September, right when he abruptly decided after just one week of being there that he had to get back to his wife and that this had all been a mistake.
He told me to stay for as long as I wanted as a consolation. And I did, at least until September 14th. The clockwork of Amy’s birthday that, unbeknownst to him, seemed to galvanize him to discard me. Treat me like little better than trash the same way Blake did to her. I’m twenty-seven now, in 2014. I don’t have the right to be in the twenty-seven club as I haven’t achieved any musical glory, nor could I if I wanted to. Yet here I am, traipsing around Sinclair’s wife’s second home with this 1.75 liter bottle of liquid medicine. The Nembutal was just an added bonus, a kitschy little nod to the decade Winehouse romanticized so much. Because love–or what one’s brain convinces herself is love–can do such strange things to the psyche. Fuck up one’s physical well-being so seamlessly once she’s really convinced herself the love is real. The less real it is, the more real it seems. She said love is a losing game because, in truth and for the most part, only one person is really playing. And ironically, it is she who gets played.
Amy Winehouse died watching YouTube videos of herself after vodka binge. Less poetically, I will simply die of vodka binge after watching YouTube videos of Wino smoking crack in order to share a common interest with her great love.